They don't know it yet, but there are 90 people who will soon be receiving a Sweet Potato Comfort Pie, because a group of people in Golden Valley got together and decided they deserved one.

The pies might come from a neighbor, a colleague or maybe someone who has appreciated their work from a distance. These heartfelt, meaningful — and incredibly delicious — offerings of food are being baked and distributed in honor of the 90th anniversary of the birth of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

It's all part of an initiative begun by Rose McGee, a Golden Valley resident who has followed a winding path of pie-baking and activism to get her to this annual celebration of King's life.

The journey began as she followed news about the events in Ferguson, Mo., in 2014 when a young black man was shot by a white police officer. Disheartened, she wondered what she could do to help.

"I heard a voice telling me to go bake some pies. So that's what I did," McGee said.

McGee, who owns Deep Roots Gourmet Desserts, has sold her sweet potato pies at the Minneapolis Farmers Market and Midtown Global Market. "I now understand that sweet potato pie was speaking to me long before I ever realized it," she said.

Taking pie to tragedy

After driving to Ferguson and distributing 30 pies to protesters who had gathered there, McGee continued her mission.

"On the drive back home, I realized this was pretty special," she said. "I wanted to do something with the concept, so I called Shep Harris, the mayor of Golden Valley, and we got some people together in my living room to talk about the power of the pie. Our first MLK Day event was in 2014."

McGee is especially appreciative of the support she's received from Golden Valley and its community foundation. "They have trusted me in this endeavor," she said. She was named the Golden Valley Citizen of the Year in 2017 and received the city's Human Rights Award in 2018.

In addition to the annual MLK Day event, McGee has baked and delivered pies to the sites of other national tragedies, including the shooting of church members in Charleston, S.C. After a May 2018 bombing in Mogadishu, she led a gathering of St. Louis Park police officers and other volunteers to bake pies and share them with Somali neighbors.

Link to history

This year, McGee will be leading a group of volunteers to bake 90 pies next Saturday. (See her recipe here.) On Jan. 20, there will be a community gathering to share stories and participate in small-group discussions about who in the community should receive those 90 pies.

In the past, pies been given to firefighters, hospital and nursing home staff members, public school teachers and administrators, elected officials, youth groups and racial justice organizations. Jacob Frey, mayor of Minneapolis, and Melvin Carter, mayor of St. Paul, have received pies.

After it's been determined who will receive the pies, the group will have an opportunity to sample Sweet Potato Comfort Pie for themselves. And, mind you, this is no ordinary pie.

"I call it the sacred dessert of black culture," McGee said. "It's a delicious way of nurturing and fortifying the human spirit. This pie not only gives us energy, but links us to history, soothes our spirits and renews us for much needed work."

She expects about 200 people to attend the Sunday afternoon event.

"We want people to listen to each other and be respectful of their differences," she said. "When you have a chance to step into someone else's story, you gain a sense of empathy and perhaps go back to your own life doing things a bit differently.

"When we become more intentional — one pie at a time — that's how change can be made."

Julie Kendrick is a Minneapolis-based freelance writer. Follow her on Twitter: @KendrickWorks.